With the schools about to break up for the summer, thoughts are turning to entertaining the kids for a whole six and a half weeks without it costing a fortune.
With that in mind, here are 67 family-friendly days out in South Wales, which are all free to visit. This guide takes in Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, the Valleys, Llanelli and Swansea. It’s split into four sections – Parks, woods and the great outdoors; Beside the seaside; Historical and cultural; and clicking on the name of the place will take you to its website.
Please check ahead for opening times, special events and other disruptions before visiting.
This guide has been put together in association with National Museum Cardiff and St Fagans National History Museum.
Part of the National Museum Wales group of seven museums, both are free to visit and perfect for families.
At the National Museum Cardiff, you’ll find meteorites, fossils and the famous dinosaur skeletons, a humpback whale skeleton alongside hundreds of other creatures, plus paintings, statues and ceramics from some of the world’s most famous artists in the art galleries. Current exhibitions include Dinosaur Babies (read our review here), Gillian Ayres (review here), and Wriggle – The Wonderful World of Worms (read our review here) Read about our trip to the museum here. Please note the museum is closed on Mondays.
St Fagans National Museum of History brings to life the history of the people of Wales with more than 40 buildings from across Wales to explore. All were carefully deconstructed at their original location before being rebuilt on the museum’s 100-acre site, and furnished accordingly. There’s a Victorian school, a chapel, a toll booth, a miners’ institute as well as the Rhyd-y-Car mining cottages, each showing a different era. The museum stands in the grounds of St Fagans Castle and gardens, a late 16th-century manor house. You can read our review here and find out about the museum’s family-friendly explorer packs here.
As well as being free to visit, both museums have a full programme of free events and workshops for families over the summer (although please note parking charges apply at St Fagans).
PARKS, WOODS AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Retaining much of its Edwardian charm, this beautiful park, which overlooks the Bristol Channel, features a period-style bandstand and Cenotaph amid its grassy parkland. This was Penarth’s first public park, and its flowers and trees are immaculately kept.
Open daily, 10am-6pm
Amelia Trust is a working farm where the objective is to support and educate vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, who care for the animals. Set within 16o acres of countryside, including plenty of woodland, you can see a range of farm animals such as cows, sheep and horses. There’s also a fairy and gnome woodland trail and an outdoor playground, which includes a tractor. Read our review here.
The lido includes a paddling pool, children’s play area, climbing rock and picnic facilities. The water is less than 50cm deep with lifeguard supervision, with amenities and a café close by. Open from 9am-5pm end of May until the end of August.
Combine with a trip to the Mumbles, Clnye Gardens, or Singleton Park, all featured in this guide.
Encompassing such a huge area, I could probably write a whole list of family-friendly activities to do in the Brecon Beacons national park alone. From mountains to climb, lakes and reservoirs to walk around, and woods to explore, this is good old-fashioned outdoor exploring at one of Wales’s most famous landmarks. Admittedly, younger children probably won’t want to climb the famous peak of Pen y Fan, but you could start with walking around one of the many waterfalls, such as Sgwd Yr Eira (here’s how we got on).
A green oasis in the heart of the city centre, Bute Park is 56 hectares of grassland, wooded areas and the River Taff running alongside it. There are paths for scooting and cycling along, plenty of wildlife to spot, trees to climb, wooden carvings to admire, as well as two cafes. We love the area around the Secret Garden Café. Read our review here.
Entry is free, but parking charges apply
This beautiful house is set within 113 acres of parkland, making it perfect for a family day out. There’s a series of designated nature walks, cycle trails and a children’s play area, plus general exploring in the woods and grassland. Read our review here.
Cardiff Bay Barrage
Stretching from Cardiff Bay to Penarth, and at just over 1k in length, this is a great place to take the kids on their bikes and scooters. There are also a number of educational trails and information points which provide an insight into the history of the Bay, such as an account of Captain Scott’s journey to the Antarctic. Mid way across the barrage is a children’s pirate-themed play area, skate park and toilet facilities – not to mention an ice cream stall to make sure you have the energy to make it back to the start! Read our review here.
The botanical garden was owned by the renowned Vivian family, originally purchased by Glynn Vivian in 1860, and passed on to his nephew Algernon ‘The Admiral’ in 1921, who had the greatest influence on the gardens as we see them today. The gardens consist of 19 hectares of land and over 2,000 different plants, including more than 800 rhododendrons, for which the gardens are renowned. Other highlights include the gazebo, used as a look-out for the Admiral to view ships entering Swansea Bay; Japanese and Italian bridges; Joy Cottage, built as a miniature cottage for the Admiral’s daughters to play and learn in; the graves of the family’s dogs; The Tower, where the admiral would overlook his collection of rhododendrons; as well as Clyne Chapel.
The lake here used to be a limestone quarry, now it’s the centre point for a 247 acre local nature reserve of woodlands and fields. There’s a great playground area, boardwalks through the reeds and marshland, and a reconstructed medieval village. Entry to the park and village is free. Read our review of Cosmeston Lakes and Medieval Village here.
Open daily 9am-5pm (6pm, Friday and Sunday); opening hours change in September
Explore the forest, including a range of activities such as a children’s explorer trail, fishing mountain biking and plenty of walking routes. A great place to explore by bike. There are a number of summer holiday events, available at an extra cost and which need to be pre-booked. Unfortunately, the Forest Drive, with its breathtaking views, is currently closed for the removal of infected larch trees – but this has not affected the forest, valley floor, lake, visitor centre, café and campsite. Please see the website for further details of the Drive’s reopening. Read our review here.
Open daily, 9am-5pm
500 acres of countryside, including a network of countryside walks and trails, birds and other wildlife to spot, and an interactive visitor centre. There’s a café and also a camping and caravan site at an additional cost.
The area around the former Glamorganshire Canal is a haven for wildlife, with woodland, scrub, meadows, ponds and marshland. Species worth looking out for include mallards, moorhens, coots, kingfishers and dragonflies. You can also see the recently restored Melingriffith Waterpump. Read our review here.
Ebbw Vale Owl Sanctuary, Festival Park, Ebbw Vale
Open 10am-5pm, 7 days a week
A lovely place to spend an hour or two, meeting the owls, birds of prey, plus other reptiles and creatures. It’s a rescue centre, relying heavily on donations to fund its work looking after more than 60 birds. Read our review here.
The woodlands around Castell Coch are a beautiful area to explore. The sculpture trail takes children on a magical journey through the forest, as well as there being other trails for walking and cycling. You can tie it in with a visit to Castell Coch, although admission charges app. Here’s how we got on when we visited.
Open daily, 9.30am-4pm. Entry is free but parking charges apply.
The southern gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park, Garwnant Visitor Centre is situated in the heart of the forest and is the starting point for walking trails, mountain biking routes for junior riders and a fully accessible trail for wheelchair users and buggies. You’ll also find a play area, a low ropes course and an animal puzzle trail, plus areas to picnic in and a café. Read our review here.
Nestled behind University of Hospital Wales, there’s good size playgrounds for older and younger children, woods to explore, a wildlife pond, a pitch and putt golf course (at an additional costs), a sensory garden area, and huge grassy fields. The only downside is that there are no toilet facilities, other than in the golf kiosk, which seems to open sporadically. The tennis courts are currently being re-built, and it’s also worth visiting when the miniature railway is open, as it’s such a fab day out (at an additional cost). Read our review here.
Acres of grassy fields, a large playground with separate areas for younger and older children, and woods to explore, Llandaff Fields is perfect for meeting up in big groups. The long pathways around the edge of the park are great for cycling or scooting along, and there’s plenty of parking nearby (although it can get busy). It could really do with some toilets though!
Skaters and skateboarders will love the range of equipment at this free skate park, which sits just outside Llanishen Leisure Centre. Equipment includes two quarter pipes, a jump box, wall ride and a mini ramp, plus some for beginners.
Open daily, entry is free but there are charges for parking
With 1,000 acres of park and woodland, there’s plenty to do here including visiting Margam Castle, the Orangery and gardens, a deer park, a children’s fairytale village, adventure playgrounds and a rare breeds farm trail. There are loads of free events at the park during the school holidays. On special events days there will be a charge to enter the park. Read our review here.
Open daily; car parking charges apply
The stunning sand dunes that make up this nature reserve are home to a wealth of plants and insect life, as well as some nationally rare and unusual fungi species. Exploring is great fun – however, don’t forget your sledge to go whizzing down the dunes for the ultimate family day trip.
Open daily, 9am-5pm
This nature reserve is a haven for wildlife, with numerous bird species to be spotted all year round. Run in partnership by Natural Resources Wales, Newport City Council and the RSPB, the centre welcomes children and families. Guided walks and children’s activities are available, plus there’s an outdoor children’s activity play area. There’s a programme of events over the summer, such as pond dipping and mini beast hunts, for an additional cost. Read our review here.
Cefn Onn is a Grade II listed park in Lisvane, North Cardiff. It’s great place to explore, with woodland, streams, ponds and flowers and wildlife to spot. Most of it is buggy-friendly, although not all areas. Read our review here.
Built on the site of a former coal mine, the nature reserve consists of 300 acres of grassland, woodland and wetlands, and is home to birds, plants and flowers, pond life, and other creatures. Read our review here.
With 260-hectares of historic landscape, hightlights at this natural woodland include the floral terraced gardens, the lake, the waterfall and Llewelyn Bridge, the bluebell woods (best in spring when the flowers are in bloom), and the River Llam, where you can cross bridges, balance on stepping stones and climb trees. The Woods is managed by an independent local charity, which relies in visitor donations to help maintain and restore the area.
Located just off the A484 Llanelli to Carmarthen coast road, half an hour drive from Junction 48 (M4), Pembrey’s 500 acres include glorious parkland, a beautiful golden sandy beach plus lots of family attractions, including a variety of nature trails, and adventure play area, dry ski slope, toboggan ride, crazy golf, pitch and putt, and train rides.
Entry is free, parking costs £5 during peak season and some activities may incur additional charges.
Porthkerry consists of 220 acres of beautiful woodland and meadows, which lead to a pebble beach and cliffs. There’s a 12-hole pitch and putt golf course, barbecues to hire, a wooden adventure playground, plus a shop, café and toilets. Entry is free but you will have to pay for parking on Sundays and bank holiday Mondays. See the website for summer holiday events. You can read a review of our day out at Porthkerry here.
One of Cardiff’s most famous landmarks, there’s plenty to do here. You can walk around the lake, feed the ducks and swans, slide down that amazing slide and play on the playground, explore the nature gardens and, for an additional cost, row one of the boats. There’s toilet facilities, a cafe and an ice cream kiosk. It does get busy on sunny days though! You can read my review of Roath Park here.
With a children’s play area, tennis courts, bowling green, seasonal floral displays, stream and rockery, and paths that are great for scooters and roller skates, plus lots of open parkland, this beautiful and well-kept park is a grade II listed park. If you walk under the viaduct, you can easily combine a trip here with a visit to the Knap lake, pebble beach and assorted cafes.
Nestled between Swansea University, Singleton Hospital and the Swansea Bay seafront, Singleton Park is home to a children’s adventure playground and botanical gardens, as well as a swan-filled lake where you can hire pedal boats, and a crazy golf (charges apply for both). You’ll also find The Egypt Centre (see the Historical and Cultural section below).
The Taff Trail is a 56km-pathway from Brecon to Cardiff and great for exploring on bike or foot, especially as the majority of it is traffic-free. There are lots of places of interest along the route such as Pontypool Park, Forrest Farm near Whitchurch and Bute Park (all of which I’ve included separately in this guide), although wherever you go is great for wildlife spotting and general exploring. If you’re feeling energetic, take your bikes on the train to Merthyr and spend the day peddling back to Cardiff.
Strictly speaking, the small farm here is for customers of the farm shop and café. But there’s no extra charge to see the chickens, pig, alpacas, and donkeys (athough they do appreciate donations to help pay for the animals’ food. Read our review here.
Free, but parking charges apply
While you have to pay or be a National Trust member to visit Tredegar House and its immediate gardens, the parkland around it is free and definitely worth a day trip. There are acres of fields, woodland to explore, a large pond and a children’s playground. Here’s how we got on when we visited recently.
Three old-style railway carriages house a souvenir and gift shop, and railway memorabilia, while there’s a one-mile circular walk around the riverbank, miniature train rides, a children’s play area, wooden play train, a zip wire and open space to explore (some activities may incur a charge). There’s also plenty of space for picnics (or food at the award-winning tea room).
The Wenallt is 44 hectares of ancient woodland with all manner of flowers and trees to spot. The woods are also home to some unusual bird species, such as buzzards and great spotted woodpeckers, as well as badgers and rabbits. On a clear day you can see right across the whole of Cardiff. The views are breath-taking. Read our review here.
One of the most popular parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Waterfall Country (Coed-y-Rhaeadr in Welsh), is home to wooded gorges, caves, swallow holes and, of course, waterfalls. The most famous waterfall is Sgwd-yr-Eira, the Snow Waterfall, on the River Hepste, where a natural path leads right behind the curtain of water. Read our review here.
This grade 2 listed park is one of the most popular parks in Cardiff. It has a great children’s play area, a new children’s splash pad, open from the end of May until the start of September, plus a statue of one of the park’s most famous former residents, Billy the seal, not to mention all the flowers and trees. There are toilet and baby changing facilities too. Read our review of the park here.
Free for children but with a £1 cost for adults, Lido Ponty is a state of the art outdoor swimming pool, perfect for families. There’s plenty to see in the park itself, including a huge playground, a pitch and putt golf course, sports pitches, a bandstand and refreshment kiosks. The park is also home to a memorial to Evan and James James, who wrote Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh national anthem.
BESIDE THE SEASIDE
Barry Island is as cheap a day out as you want to make it. Stick to the golden sands of Whitmore Bay and a walk along the seafront, and bring a picnic and you’ll only need to pay for parking or bus/train. Otherwise, there are loads of seaside shops and cafes, arcades and, of course, the funfair at this traditional seaside resort. Read about our day out here.
Dunraven Bay is a half-pebble, half-sand beach. It is nicely secluded, and at low tide there are rock pools for the children to explore and fossils to hunt for. If the beach is too busy or hot, you could always explore Dunraven Castle ruins or walk along the coastal path and enjoy the scenery across the Bristol Channel. Check the tide times before you go! Read our review here.
From surfers’ favourite Llanegennith, to the rugged beauty of Three Cliffs, and the famous worm’s head of Rhossili (voted in the top four beaches in Britain for the last four years) the 50 or so beaches of the Gower was designated as the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty back in 1956. All free to visit, but parking charges may apply.
Walk around the harp-shaped lake and feed the swans and ducks, skateboard in the Richard Taylor Memorial Skateboard Park, explore the Cold Knap pebble beach, walk up onto the headlands if you’re feeling active, or round the corner to the Old Harbour bay. It’s also worth checking out the Roman remains (see the Historical section for details).
Great for rock pooling and fossil hunting, this pebble beach reveals some sand when the tide is out. There’s parking toilets and a café, plus a slipway onto the beach for easy access to the beach, as well as coastal paths up to the cliffs.
The 22km of coastline along the Loughor estuary has been transformed into an array of tourist attractions, wildlife habitats and leisure facilities with the award-winning Millennium Coastal Park. The Discovery Centre offers panoramic views of the Loughor estuary and Gower peninsula. Next to the centre is the North Dock Dunes Local Nature Reserve, with its dry sandy conditions home to many specialist plants and animals. The cycle path on the Machynys peninsular offers views of the Burry Inlet, internationally important for its wildlife. You can see the boats at Burry Port Harbour, and enjoy the golden shorelines of Llanelli beach.
Skate, scoot, cycle or walk along the sea front path from the village of Mumbles to the famous pier and lighthouse. There’s a decent children’s park along the way plus areas of coastline to explore. If you have a few pounds to spare, stop by Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour or Verdi’s for a summer treat. You can read about our trip to Mumbles here.
This is a popular beach of mixed sand and pebbles, two miles long, at the mouth of the river Ogmore. There’s lots to discover – such as finding fossils along the beach and the craggy rocks, spotting wildlife on the river, or venturing to the haunted Norman Castle and the expansive sand dunes. The beach has a surf club, toilets and an ice cream van is usually present.
This 658-foot-long pier is great fun to walk along, and is one of only two surviving pleasure piers in South Wales, the other one being Mumbles. Built in 1894, the fully-restored art deco pier pavilion also houses a gallery, cinema, café and restaurant. You can also explore the beach, a combination of pebbles and sand. Read our review here.
This gorgeous, sheltered sandy beach is popular with tourists heading to Porthcawl for a traditional day at the British seaside. Just as with Barry Island, you can make a day here as expensive or as cheap as you want, by heading to the Coney Beach amusement park which is situated on the promenade. Entry to the park itself is free but you’ll need to pay for the rides and amusement arcades and so on.
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL
Open daily, 9.30am-5pm, underground tours 10am-3.30pm
This former coal mine-turned-museum gives visitors the chance to descend in the pit cage and visit the places where generations of coal miners worked. You’ll be lowered 90m (300ft) down the Big Pit mineshaft, wearing the same equipment – helmet, cap lamp, belt, battery and ‘self rescuer’ – used by miners. Read our review here.
This open air museum features the refurbished Stack Square cottages once inhabited by the ironworkers (and made famous by BBC Wales’s The Coal House), as well as a recreated company tuck shop, the restored water balance tower, and the blast furnaces. Cutting-edge audio technology helps tell the tale of one of the most important monuments to have survived from the early part of the industrial revolution, when the ironworks was one of the most important producers of iron in the world.
If you live or work in Cardiff, then you can apply for a Castle Key, which gives you free entry* to the famous city centre landmark. Explore Cardiff Castle’s ornate castle house, the 12-sided castle keep, and the war shelters hidden in the castle walls.
*for three years; adults have to pay a £5 administration charge
Everyone who lives in Cardiff should visit here at least once! It tells the history of our city through the eyes of its people, with lots of interactive displays that make it perfect for children. There’s also period-style dressing up costumes and a play area with a wooden train and kitchen. Look out for the Dinky Dragons pre-school days, the second Friday of each month, including Friday 8th August. You can see my full review of The Cardiff Story here.
With heated changing rooms, a series of cold and warm baths, covered exercise rooms and an open-air swimming pool, life wasn’t too bad for Romans in Wales! The well-preserved remains of the baths – managed by Cadw – are not far from the amphitheatre and National Roman Legion Museum (see below, if you want to make a day of finding out about the Romans in Wales). Read our review here.
Channel your inner Russell Crowe at the amphitheatre remains (managed by Cadw), which give a sense of the gruesome and bloody battles as gladiator and beast fought for their lives. Read our review here.
Cardiff Central Library (or your own branch library)
There’s a whole floor of children’s books for you to borrow or browse at Cardiff Central Library, or see here for a list of libraries in Cardiff. Over the summer, children can take part in the annual summer reading challenge, encouraging them to read six books of their choice, collecting stickers and other rewards along the way.
Open Mondays to Fridays, 10am-5.30pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 12pm-5.30pm (April to September)
Set in beautiful parkland, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the castle is not just a castle but also a museum and art gallery. Built by William Crawshay in the 1820s to serve as a reminder of the Ironmaster’s dominance over the town, it is considered one of the most impressive monuments of the Industrial Iron Age in South Wales. Under 16s are free but adults cost £2 each, so not entirely free but a bargain nonetheless.
This is one of the best sites in Britain to see dinosaur footprints from the Triassic Period. You’re best off visiting when the tide is on its way out, as some of the tracks get covered at high tide. I’m sure it goes without saying, but please don’t damage the footprints! They have been stolen in the past!
The Egypt Centre houses more than 5,000 artefacts of Egyptian treasure and artwork. The House of Life contains artefacts associated with the everyday life of Egyptians, including jewellery, tools, weapons ad even children’s toys. The House of Death includes the coffin of a female musician and mummified animals.
The oldest surviving tinplate works in Britain offers a glimpse into the industrial life of the region. You can see lots of the original machinery equipment, as well as a diesel engine and steam and diesel trains, all of which helped the area become home to nearly half the world’s tinplate production.
Open on certain dates from Easter until the end of September, including Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday throughout the summer holidays.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm. Closed Mondays.
Discover the history of Wales, learn about animals in the natural history section, and visit the art and ceramic galleries. Most children I know seem to enjoy the dinosaurs the most though – which now includes the skeleton of a new dinosaur species, discovered earlier this year in the Vale of Glamorgan and on display until September. There are loads of free events during the summer holidays – and don’t forget to check out the new exhibitions, Wriggle: The Wonderful World of Worms and Quentin Blake: Inside Stories. You can read our full review of the museum here.
Wales was the furthest outpost in the Roman Empire, with the fortress at Caerleon guarding the region for over 200 years. Learn about Roman life in Wales in the museum, with exhibitions and artefacts showing how the Romans lived, fought, worshipped and died. At weekends and school holidays, children can step back in time in a full-sized barrack room, try on replica armour and experience the life of a Roman soldier. Once you’ve visited the museum, explore the remains of the fortress and baths (see above). Read our review.
Open daily, 10am-5pm
Telling the story of industry and innovation in Wales over the last 300 years, exhibits at the National Waterfront Museum include replica boats and an exploration of the exporting and importing and goods; plus a collection of cars and other vehicles from over the years. Various family-friendly events run during the holidays. You can read more about our visit to the museum here. It’s situated next to Swansea Museum (see below).
Charting the rich cultural past of Newport, the museum’s displays include: prehistoric and Roman Newport; medieval life; the Newport Ship; Chartism and its legacy; Newport’s industrial heritage; wildlife displays of common animals; and a 3rd floor gallery art gallery.
The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays and building work might cause some temporary disruptions.
Cold Knap was once a Roman port and you can still visit the remains of what is thought to be a major public building from the late 3rd or early 4th century. You can see the layout of 22 rooms arranged around a central courtyard, plus cellars and a watchtower. Worth combing with a trip to The Knap and Romilly Park.
Handily situated next to the National Waterfront Museum (see above), here you’ll find ancient Egyptian artefacts, including a mummy named Hor; an exhibition charting Swansea’s relationship with the sea; plus artefacts from the Second World War. See the website for details of family-friendly events at weekends and during school holidays.
Open daily, 10am-5pm
The open air museum brings to life the history of the Welsh people with over 100 buildings reconstructed on the site, including a Victorian school, a row of Valleys mining cottages, a chapel and farm houses. You can read my full review of St Fagans here. Entry is free although there is a charge for car parking. There are loads of free events taking place throughout the summer – too many to list here!
Open daily, Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm
The hands-on exhibits at this museum tell the history of Caerphilly, while it’s worth visiting on the last Saturday of each month to see the original Victorian winding engine in action.
We all know about the shows, but Wales Millennium Centre has lots of free performances in the foyer, as well its Family Saturdays craft sessions (11am-4pm) where you can enjoy some family-friendly arts and crafts with a different theme every week, plus free craft events during school holidays. More details to be announced.
I hope you find this list useful! We’re certainly lucky in South Wales to have so many amazing free attractions to visit.
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